Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Looking Beyond the Stereotypes

Sin City. Disneyland for grown-ups. A Mecca of sleaze and vice, where lives can be made or broken on the roll of a dice. Sound familiar?

What kind of stories would you associate with this place? Stag/Hen night shenanigans. Tales about pulling heists on unscrupulous mob bosses. Comedies, crime capers and intense dramas about the self destruction of the human spirit. How about a straight romance? Probably not, right? That would be more suited to Paris, Venice or even New York.

What do these three cities have that Vegas doesn't? The Eiffel Tower? No, Vegas has one of those. What about gondolas floating on a canal under a clear blue sky? Again, Vegas has that. How about the Statue of Liberty? Do I really need to answer?

Of course, people will say that Vegas is merely an imitator. It is often described as a city lacking a soul, so it borrows a piece from every other city. The thing is, Vegas does have a soul of its own and it has magic too. Whether it is caused by the build up of electrical energy in the atmosphere or simply the accumulation of static in the acrylic carpets - sparks fly. I mean this literally. On my recent visit, every time that my arm brushed against that of my wife, we would feel a burst of energy as the sparks erupted between us. At times, it was painful, but it was also uniquely Vegas. Nowhere else have I come across this with such consistency.

Of course, Vegas has its downsides. We all know about the sleazy strip joints. Except that I did not actually come across any of them when I was there. You cannot miss these types of places in any city centre in the UK, where I am from. In London there are entire streets that are nothing but strip clubs. London has not got a bad reputation, but compared to Vegas it is like Babylon. True, my wife and I did go to see some showgirls perform. They were topless, but not gratuitously so. More than half of the audience were women and the interval act was a female comedienne whose main target was, well, men. I do not think that I got a single joke, but most of the women seemed to be laughing (my wife wasn't, but she never gets American humour anyway).

The point I am making is that we do not really know what a place is like until we visit it for ourselves. Sure, there are always photographs and videos, but they do not tell you how a place smells, how it sounds, what its soul is like. Personally, I think Vegas is very much a place for couples. It is too clean, too busy and too glitzy for a stag do. It is also too corporate, safe and well run to be the focus of a mob caper. For me, these stories belong in bigger, more dangerous cities such as New York, Paris or to mix it up a little - Venice.

So why is Vegas always depicted in a certain way when it comes to story telling, or even Paris for that matter? It is because of stereotypes. And the worst thing is that most of the time those who are writing the story have never visited the place in question and are writing based on the stereotype and not the place. Just like an author needs to know their characters, they need to know their location too. The location IS a character.

Research may work for some, but their is no substitute for experience.

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